BENTON HARBOR — Friday was the third day garbage wasn’t picked up in Benton Harbor as Wecycle Industrial Sanitation LLC waits for its monthly payment of $39,000 from the city.
The company will continue not picking up the trash until it receives its money, said Willie “Curly” Williams, Wecycle’s manager who quit Wednesday but was rehired Friday morning.
Williams and Wecycle’s owner, Robert Edwards of Southfield, allege that the company’s monthly payment was instead given last week to former employee Virginia Huddleston of Benton Harbor, who they say was fired more than a year ago. Huddleston responded to a text Friday and said she has no comment on the matter, at this time.
The owners of the company were originally listed as Edwards, Huddleston and her brother, Jewell Allen of Champaign, Ill. Huddleston and Allen are siblings of Benton Harbor city Commissioner MaryAlice Adams.
Berrien County records show Edwards, Huddleston and Allen are listed as part of “WECYCLE INDUSTRIAL SANITATION” as “Doing Business As,” without the LLC, according to Debbie Vitale, office manager with the Berrien County Clerk’s Office. She said LLCs can only be registered at the state level.
Williams said that Edwards listed the company as an LLC with the state, with Edwards being the sole owner, because he was the only one putting money into the company, Williams said. He added that Allen periodically worked for the company as a truck driver when he was in town.
State records show that the LLC was created on May 11, 2017.
The Herald-Palladium obtained a copy of the garbage contract, signed on Feb. 5, 2018, showing that it is between the city and the LLC, and was signed by Edwards, along with Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad, then-City Manager Darwin Watson and Benton Harbor city Clerk Kimberly Thompson.
Muhammad sent out a news release Friday: “In light of the recent issues with the residential solid and yard waste collection, I, Mayor Marcus Muhammad, along with the support off the Benton Harbor City Commission, are working to address this serious matter,” he said.
The mayor later said he would address the matter at Monday’s commission meeting.
Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey said his department is investigating the situation and will share its findings with the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office.
“Right now, we don’t know if there’s anything criminal. It could be civil,” Bailey said.
Williams said he received new information Friday about what happened to the $39,000 that was supposed to be paid to the company this month. Williams said he was told that Huddleston opened a bank account and had the city direct deposit the money into this account late last week.
Williams said that by the time he spoke to Interim City Manager Ellis Mitchell on Tuesday about stopping payment on the check, the money had apparently already been taken out of the account.
Mitchell did not respond to requests for comment.
Williams said he recently received a copy of a letter dated Nov. 4, which shows that the law firm of Kotz Sangster in St. Joseph is representing Huddleston and Allen. The letter is signed by attorney John Dewane, a retired Berrien County Trial Court judge.
The letter, addressed to Mitchell, states that the firm “will be working on internal matters related to the organization and operation of the LLC.”
Attempts to reach Dewane for comment were unsuccessful.
On the letter is a handwritten note, apparently signed by Mitchell, which says, “Per Ms. Huddleston, please hold Wecycle checks until she comes in with new paperwork.”
Meanwhile, residents have taken to social media to vent their frustration with the lack of garbage pick-up.
One woman posted that her husband was trying to find out from the city why their trash hadn’t been picked up.
“The city pretended they didn’t know the reason why,” she posted.
Other residents said they shouldn’t be charged for this month’s garbage service.
“So, does no trash service mean that credits will be given to residents on the water bill?” one person wrote. “Certainly, the city isn’t expecting people to pay for services not rendered........”
Other residents want the city to contract with Reliable Disposal again.
Reliable Disposal provided garbage service to the city from October 2010 to October 2017. For the 18 years before that, garbage service was provided by Industrial Sanitation, owned by Williams. He said Wecycle is in the process of buying his business.
Wecycle started picking up trash on Oct. 2, 2017. Benton Harbor is the company’s first and only client.
City commission meeting
City commissioners will next meet at 7 p.m. Monday at city hall.
A closed session is on the agenda to update commissioners on the status of former City Manager Darwin Watson’s arbitration.
Commissioners will also consider moving two polling stations.
If approved, the 2nd Ward polling station would move to the Benton Harbor Library because Benton Harbor school board trustees have closed Martin Luther King Academy.
In addition, the 4th Ward polling station would move to the Benton Harbor Housing Commission’s Virginia Edward Community Center because the Business Growth Center may be bought by another entity.
Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege